Babying MJ Along

This week was frustrating as far as riding goes. It had rained throughout Saturday night and it was too wet for me to ride in Shannon's grass ring on Sunday, so I was really looking forward to my lesson on Wednesday.

We got to the stable and Darryl told me that MJ was sort of lame, and Debbie said I could ride him at a walk. OK. Mary brought MJ in and trotted him up and down the stable aisle so I could evaluate how lame he was. It was not horrible, yes MJ bobbed his head at the trot but it was a mild bob, and, just as important, Mary did not have much problem getting him to trot in hand. His front hooves were landing toe first, so yes, I could ride MJ some at a walk without making stuff worse, but I obviously was not going to have fun.

Mary got a lot of packed in dirt from under his bar shoes which probably had not help his soundness at all. He was amenable to being brushed and Mary and I got MJ groomed, then she put on his Fenwick Pastern Wrap, his Fenwick leg wraps and his BOT exercise boots so his lower legs could start warming up. Since it was warmer I did not use the BOT neck rug on him, and Mary was hesitant to putting his Smart Therapy exercise sheet on, but I told her if she did not put it on him it would take me MUCH LONGER to get him warmed up. After all we can always take the exercise sheet off it he looks like he is getting too warm.

Debbie arrived, apologizing for being late. She pointed out MJ's right knee which was sort of puffy. She had put Surpass and DMSO ointment on it a few times and it had improved. Debbie had not realized that MJ was lame until she was giving a private first lesson to a new student, a lady who had ridden horses previously. At the trot MJ showed up lame and Debbie apologized to her student and they worked at the walk (there is ALWAYS plenty to learn at the walk in a lesson.) Debbie has already called her veterinarian to set up an appointment with the veterinarian and farrier to get X-Rays of his unshod front hooves, the angles of his front hooves probably need to be changed a little bit so he can return to being serviceably sound. Since MJ is in his late twenties Debbie just keeps on aiming for him to be sound on the flat because he is an excellent school horse for getting nervous riders comfortable at the canter.

Trying to keep my weight off of his back I started walking MJ around the jumps. I did not notice much flinching until we did a moderately tight turn. MJ was just a little bit less willing to move at the walk, no big deal and I did not ask him to do anything more than what he willingly offered me. His front legs did not feel the same as they landed, there was more of a flinch in his left leg than in his right leg with the swollen knee, something I was not expecting. Debbie then asked me to do a super slow walk and then to extend his walk. At the super slow walk MJ's left leg was WORSE, and it improved at his normal speed of the walk and continued better at the more extended walk that he offered me, again not what I was expecting.

Debbie then asked me what I was feeling from each front leg. Well he was flinching mildly when he put his left hoof down and I could feel it vertically up his leg column. His right leg, with the swollen knee gave me a different feel, yes there was a flinch, then instead of coming up the center of his leg column it took an inward jag at his knee, then it went up from there vertically. This was what Debbie was seeing too.

Then Debbie wanted me to do a short trot in each direction. I had no difficulties getting MJ to trot, he was not eager but he still was able to obey my leg aids. Going to the left he had a minor head bob and he kept gently stretching his neck out, reaching for the bit, from my sagging reins. Going to the right his head bob was worse, and when he stretched out to the bit he carried his head lower than he did when trotting to the left. I think that MJ was reaching for the bit so I would end up carrying some of his weight in my hands, but since this was a diagnostic trot I let my reins slip through my fingers.

The rest of my ride was at the walk and halt. I practiced my “rider's push-ups” and my stretching exercises at the halt, concentrating on not moving my lower leg back and forth. We'd plod on for a bit, stop to talk with Debbie, and then plod some more at the slow walk which MJ voluntarily gave me. Every once in a while I'd ask MJ for a tiny bit more speed, he'd try for a second or two then tell me maybe not today, try later, and then try again when they get his hoof angles corrected and he is back to being serviceably sound, then he will give me what I want.

Because of the flare-up of MJ's navicular disease I did not do a lot of my normal stuff. We did not do any turns in place fore or hind, we did not back up, I avoided the really tight turns, and I kept my contact minimal. I was trying to reduce any additional forces on his navicular bones. I refused to carry his head because Debbie wanted to see how lame he was, she did not want to see how well I could hide his lameness. Trotting off contact with me trying to stay in two-point was the nearest thing I could do to replicate trotting him on a loose lead rope.

Watching MJ being led back to the barn I could see that I had not made his lameness worse from our short ride. He was not walking gingerly though he was walking a little bit slower than usual. His fore feet were still landing toe first but he was not swinging his head up and down to keep weight off his sorer leg. Just being led at a walk MJ almost looked sound.

I had been sort of hoping to start my homework rides again this week, but Debbie has her first big show at the stable this weekend so that did not work out. We talked about who I could ride if MJ needs to take his time to get serviceably sound again, and we settled on Splash, an overo skewbald pinto mare, white and chestnut. Debbie told me Splash's riders NEED to wear spurs, which is not a difficulty for me since I wear spurs every time I ride. This is good for me, every single horse can teach me something new, and I get to teach a new-to-me-horse my language of the aids. I am also glad to be riding another mare, geldings are fine but mares have a little bit extra in them, usually extra sensitivity and, in a decent mare, a little extra cooperative attitude.

Maybe one week soon I can start riding three times a week again, something I have not been able to do with the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and all for the last two years. This will make me even more tired than usual, but when I finally get used to it again my walking on my own two feet should improve again along with better endurance. This is something to hope for, and I hope the weather cooperates with me so I can do it.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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